The Patriots will host the Denver Broncos on Monday night. The Broncos are coming off a win against a pathetic New York Jets last Thursday after starting the season 0-3. The Broncos were playing their 3rd string quarterback, Brett Rypien, who look pedestrian against a Jets defense that had looked terrible through 3 games. There is some uncertainty to who will be taking snaps from under center with their Week 1 starter, Drew Lock, able to return to practice this week. Regardless of who they face, the Patriots defense will have the element of surprise as neither Rypien or Lock have played against them. However I do like the Patriots’ chances better against Rypien.
On the flip side, the Patriots’ QB situation is also in flux as Cam Newton’s positive COVID test has kept him out since October 2nd. Brian Hoyer looked like a QB that didn’t belong in the NFL in 2 1⁄2 quarters against the Chiefs and Jarrett Stidham didn’t fare much better. All indications suggest that Stidham will be starting Monday night. Hopefully having a full week to prepare, as opposed to coming off the bench cold, will allow him to be more comfortable under center. The Patriots are 2-2 and despite already having two losses looks like the one team no one wants to play in January if they’re healthy. However they’ll need to weather out the injury/COVID storm a couple more weeks in order to get healthy down the stretch.
Player to Take Away: WR Jerry Jeudy
Jeudy is the Broncos’ most potent weapon with Phillip Lindsay, Noah Fant, and K.J. Hamler all nursing injuries. Fant and Hamler are unlikely to suit up for Denver, which means the team will mostly need to worry about Jeudy and Broncos #2 receiver Tim Patrick. Jeudy was the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, so he will be a problem for the Patriots to cover with just one guy. Last week, Jeudy Moss’d Pierre Desir for a touchdown so the Patriots better be ready to defend the ball above the shoulders. With Stephon Gilmore unlikely to play due to COVID, the rest of the secondary will have to step up.
The best man to cover Jeudy underneath will be third year corner J.C. Jackson. Jackson has provided suffocating coverage in 40 career games, earning the team’s #2 boundary corner role across from Gilmore this season. With the reigning Defensive Player of the Year on the shelf, Jackson’s ability to play the deep ball and jump routes will be critical to slowing down the Denver passing attack.
Running game must continue its thing
Every week, the Patriots continue to pile up quality production in the running game. Coming off injured reserve, second year back Damien Harris ran for 100 yards on 17 carries, including a massive 41 yard dash that set up the Patriots’ only touchdown last week. The Patriots offensive line has been a well-oiled machine in the ground game, no matter which five players have been on the line. Through Week 4, the Patriots have averaged five yards a carry on the season and have the second most rushing yards per game in the NFL despite lacking a premier runner in the backfield. Granted, they’ve played some poor run defenses in Miami, Oakland, and Kansas City, but they keep making things happen on the ground.
The Patriots will need Harris, J.J. Taylor, Rex Burkhead, and James White to all make significant contributions in their usual way with an inexperienced QB under center. If the OL plays the way they’ve done all season, expect the RBs to feast in this game as the Patriots will likely run the ball 40+ times if the score is in their favor. With a successful running game, that will allow the Patriots to devastate the Broncos linebackers and safeties off play-action.
No turnovers, Jarrett!
Jarrett Stidham’s job is to not screw up. By that, Stidham needs to avoid giving the other team the ball. I expect Josh McDaniels to diagnose plays that will get the ball out of Stidham’s hands ASAP with screens to N’Keal Harry, Julian Edelman, and James White. The Patriots offensive line has done well in pass protection for most of the year, so he should have time to throw. When protected, Stidham shows good physical tools and fundamentals for a QB but the lack of experience is a problem when he sees something he’s never seen before. Fortunately, the Patriots are one of the best teams at using motions, formations, and personnel to force the opposing defense to tip their hand. If Stidham has 0 turnovers on Sunday, count on a Patriots win.
Keep Denver pinned back in field position
I’m not expecting a lot of points here with questionable QB play, injuries affecting their receiving corps, and two solid defenses meeting up on Monday. With that in mind, the field position battle will be critical for the Patriots to win in order to limit the Broncos’ ability to score. The Patriots defense will do its job on Sunday, but the offense will need to move the chains once or twice a drive to allow one of the best punt coverage units in the league to do their job. That goes hand-in-hand with the running game as well as limiting turnovers.
- RB Damien Harris: A good game for Harris will look like 20 touches, 80+ yards, and a score. With him serving as the lead back in the committee, getting good production from him is essential to a victory.
- CB J.C. Jackson: Like with Harris, Jackson becomes the most important defender in the passing game as he’ll be likely taking on Jerry Jeudy with help or Tim Patrick on an island. Jackson must continue to be one of the league’s top cover men for the Patriots to stop the Broncos offense.
- QB Jarrett Stidham: Stidham just needs to avoid major mistakes and turnovers while letting the rest of the offense pick up the slack. The Patriots will not ask him to do too much in this game, and in plenty of games have put together great game plans on short notice for their inexperienced QBs. If Stidham can develop an early rhythm, this game has blowout potential and possibly sets the foundation for a QB battle next year should the Patriots not re-sign Newton.
Final Score: Patriots 23, Broncos 17
This game is going to more about who screws up worse more than who plays better. With both teams likely fielding inexperienced quarterbacks and more than half their respective skill players listed on this week’s injury report, the defenses won’t see much resistance. However I believe the Patriots defense will be able to force a critical turnover and the running game driving for a game-sealing field goal in the final 5 minutes of the game.